Saturday, May 19, 2012

The common autumn squill

This common flower is so difficult to notice. It is about five centimetres high with very small light pink flowers that blend perfectly with the light coloured soil common in the arid rocky areas where this plant grows. 

It is also difficult to see it because when it is blooming there are no green leaves to attract your attention. The leaves appear above ground after the end of the flowering season.

The flowers appear in the autumn soon after the first rains. Like other species of autumn-flowering plants it is able to do so because of the food stored in the bulb which had been manufactured by the plant during the previous season.

The autumn squill is known in Maltese as għansal tax-xitwa. It is widespread in Mediterranean countries from Turkey to Spain as well as further north as far as southern England and the Middle East all the way to northern Iraq. In Malta it is common in the right habitat

Two other species of squill are known in the Maltese islands. The large squill, known in Maltese as għansal selvaġġ, is probably extinct from the Maltese islands. The Sicilian squill, għansal ikħal in Maltese, is a regional endemic found only in the Maltese islands and neighbouring islands including Sicily.

Until some years ago the autumn squill belonged to the same group of plants as the other two locally occurring squills but recently its name was changed from Scilla autumnalis to Prospero autumnalis

Prospero is the main character in The Tempest one of Shakespeare play. 

I had read this play when I was still at school but I cannot imagine why this tiny flowering plant was named after this character. Perhaps if I re-read the play I could get some clues that would help me solve this problem! 

This article was published in The Times on 2.11.11

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